The Messianic community in Israel and abroad is not of one color or in one stream. There is no ‘spokesperson’ whose views are accepted by all as representing them – and this is right. We do not all look the same, nor do we all have the same preferences when it comes to the many things which are offered us. We are not called to the same service or gifted with the same gifts or skilled with the same skills. Of all that which is lawful, not all are evaluated in the same way by every one at all times as to whether it is helpful or edifying, or whether any one has come under its power into bondage.
People tend toward labeling and stereotyping because it seems neat and natural. Often times there is much truth in the description, but the exceptions usually take exception to being categorized or lumped together in quite that way. There are a number of things spoken of in broad strokes and generalizations by both believers and unbelievers regarding the people, the faith, and the practice of “Messianic Jews”. (The term, Messianic Jew, is problematic, because Lubavitch Jews/Chabad and Temple Mount Faithful adherents are also ‘messianic Jews’.) I want to set some things in order from my present view and understanding because, yes, I am one of those who does not like to be too rigidly labeled and categorized. Others have done that for me at times! But as one who is born of the Spirit, I myself cannot tell always where I may come from or where the Lord is taking me. Right now, I am reacting and responding to a number of things which have recently, and some for many years, been expressed. Perhaps the Lord is preparing for something
My wife, Randi, and I moved to Israel only seven months after becoming believers in Yeshua/Jesus as the Christ/Messiah. We briefly connected at first with what was then the Messianic Jewish movement, but we did not ‘subscribe’ to it, nor were we in the U.S. very long as believers. We came to Israel, where most everything is already Jewish. I have dear friends and brothers who are in the Messianic Jewish [synagogue] style of expressing their lives, both here and in the U.S. What keeps us in good fellowship, though, is our agreement on the ‘real’ Yeshua – both in His deity and in His humanity; on the ‘true’ gospel – there is only one way of salvation, both for the Jews and for the Gentiles (Why would God change His way for the Jews after He started the way of salvation with them?!); and, on the ‘holiness’ of the Holy Spirit. To be open, I have no problem that we fall into the category of what some might call fundamentalist and evangelical. We are also Pentecostal and charismatic, but also in these, not in the way of ‘labeling’ and ‘stereotyping’. The problem comes when some want to find fault with being a believer like this, or in a congregation of this kind – mostly for the reason that we don’t quite fit their ‘acceptable norms’. What is the matter with believing the Bible to really be God’s Word, of preaching the gospel for salvation, of being baptized in/by/with the Holy Spirit, of having and using spiritual gifts?
Joseph was in Egypt and received an Egyptian name. God arranged that, and used Joseph in wonderful ways to save many lives, both of Gentiles, and also of His family, the house of Jacob. So, too, with Yeshua: too many love Yeshua, but are embarrassed about Jesus. God has let His anointed and beloved Son be called by many names amongst the languages of the nations. The day will eventually come when YHVH will be one and His Name one. But if we are thankful for what our sovereign God has done, and for who He is, then we can speak honorably of Him, and praise His name, in all the languages God has given mankind to glorify the Savior of the world. The name Yeshua in Hebrew appears a number of times in the Tanach (the Old Testament, which is passing away; it has not passed away). Some examples are in Ezra 3:2 and Neh 8:17. In English it appears as Jeshua; in the Septuagint, which was translated more than two centuries before Yeshua was born in flesh and blood, the Greek translation of the name Yeshua/Jeshua is the same as in the New Testament. In other words, Jesus is not some pagan name, but rather a name which God has been pleased to honor for many centuries! The same is true regarding Messianic or Christian. They are the same word, meaning the same thing. It is neither a Jewish nor a Gentile designation, but an identification with the Messiah/Christ.
The same regarding the birth of the Lord: His birth is not a pagan event, but a very holy one. It is a Biblical day of rejoicing by those who looked for and loved the fulfillment of the promise given so clearly to Adam and Eve, to the Middle East through Balaam, to Israel through Isaiah. The Jewish shepherds in Israel sent by the rejoicing angels to behold the one who had come into the world; the righteous and devout Jewish Israeli old man, Shimon/Simeon; and the Israeli prophetess Hannah/Anna all celebrated the birth of the Messiah of God, the Holy One of Israel, the Son of the Highest! Let the unbelievers and the heathen do what they will, but let us sanctify the Lord in our hearts and worship Him in purity, not giving over anything to the devil, but redeeming that which has been taken over by those who fear not YHVH.
Not all Messianic Jews religiously follow the customs and traditions of normative Judaism. Neither do we renounce all of those traditions, but follow or use them in the liberty we have when it seems appropriate or simply desirable. The focus, though, is on the substance, rather than on the shadow or type, or on the culture itself. I was raised in the Conservative Jewish synagogue. When I was born-again, I was no longer Jew-ish (like a Jew), but, by the wonderful grace of God, became a Jew!
For those who claim to keep Biblically kosher (i.e., maintaining dietary laws regarding clean and unclean meats, but [rightly] disregarding the rabbinic prohibition against eating meat and dairy foods together), I have never heard one say that the numerous passages in the New Testament are relevant as to what makes for Biblical. It is written that Yeshua made all foods clean. Yeshua came first of all to the House of Israel, to the ones who had the Law (Torah) with its regulations about ritually acceptable foods. Once we accept that, or reject it, our understanding of the other verses and passages will be influenced. Clean foods were already clean, and so needed no ‘cleansing’ by the Messiah; it is the unclean foods which He made clean, which makes sense when I realize that not only did He cleanse the ‘defiled’ Gentiles in the hearts and minds of the Israeli Jewish Apostles, but He also cleansed this ‘unclean’ Jew! We are free to eat what we want or not, but let us honor the word and the work of our Lord in His death and resurrection when we speak of those things which are lawful and permissible, without any judgment of one’s ‘Jewishness’. Let us testify to the new creation which we are, and to a new priesthood and its duties and privileges, which necessarily also changes the law for those in Messiah in His New Covenant.
Likewise regarding the 7th day Sabbath (Shabbat): it has not been done away with, and it also has a prophetic fulfillment with the soon coming Kingdom of God back to Israel and the whole of creation. However, Moses wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit about the ‘day after the Sabbath’ (Lev 23:11, 15), referring to the first fruits/resurrection, and to the day of Shavuot/Pentecost. The counting of the omer/sheaves begins with life from the dead! Our new life begins not with our death and burial, but with our resurrection in and with Christ! Eternity is after this very good creation is brought to an end – when time and history are concluded — and the perfect new heavens and new Earth are created for all who love God in truth. It is this day after the Shabbat, the first day of the week, that the Jewish Israeli Apostles wrote about to celebrate as a witness and a testimony to the fulfillment of what God did in Yeshua resurrecting from among the dead sometime either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
Again, we are free, according to New Testament instructions (which are very realistic for what God is doing to save people wherever they may live and from whatever culture), to assemble together for worship on any day now, if that will be most helpful for most of the people. Here in Israel, among the Jews, it is obviously most normal to meet on the Shabbat; in a Muslim country, believers may find it more useful to meet on Fridays. For Arab Christians here, Sunday is the normal day for most to gather together. Whatever day it may be, we still have the responsibility to honor the days which YHVH God has specially honored, because we are His witnesses to His work of creation and redemption, and to show ourselves approved by Him. It is not a badge of faith in Yeshua/Jesus just because we meet on Shabbat, especially when most of the world naturally assumes that those who believe in Him would worship on Sunday. It may be Jewish, but it is not necessarily Messianic!
1Jn 2:22-25 makes it very definite that the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints is neither Judaism nor Islam, each of them falling into the negative categories which the Holy Spirit inspired John to write for our admonition and learning. God’s own ‘theology’ of monotheism is different than the definitions given by Judaism and Islam. God has given Israel to be an example to the Church, meaning that the Jewish people are a microcosm of all humanity, because the Body of Christ is made up of persons from every tribe and nation. Judaism is likewise a paradigm for other religions that have received the revelation from the true God, but turned it into a legalistic, works-based approach to righteousness and salvation (Rom10:2-4). The Roman Catholic Church is very similar to Judaism, but on the other side of identifying who Jesus is, and every Christian/Messianic denomination or stream can fall into the same pattern of having those who place works and tradition above living faith and hope, which have the capacity to be all things to all people for the gospel and the Kingdom of God’s sake, rooted in the righteousness of God.
I think that it is reasonable to say that Judaism – the religion whose focus is presumably on YHVH God, but which has turned inward onto itself/themselves, departing from the true knowledge of God, and so seeks man’s approval over God’s – will not be the ‘religion’ of the Millennial Kingdom which Yeshua is coming back to usher in and preside over! There is definitely a future for the Jewish/Israeli people, at least another 1000 years! Praise the Lord! But the full remnant that is all Israel is not all ‘Jew-ish’, but is rather the restoration of the whole House of Israel (Ezek 37:15-28). So now, in the Body of Messiah within Israel, the Jewish believers are difficult to define, to put a finger on. And it is not really helpful to insist on it, in order to prove one’s Jewish or Israeli credentials to some one or other’s satisfaction. Our faith in Jesus/Yeshua places us outside normative Judaism, and no self-respecting Jewish person will accept it otherwise. Only a revelation from the Father can change the notion which says that Jesus is not for the Jewish people, and that Jews can not believe in Jesus. (Click here to read this very enlightening response by unbelieving Jews to a believer.) The Scriptures are true: Israel is an enemy of the gospel, but beloved for the fathers’ sake, and for the salvation of countless Gentiles. This reality will not change until Israel cries out for Yeshua to save her/them (Mt 23:37-39; Zech 12:10-14).
We are not concerned with gaining legitimacy for Jewish believers in Jesus here in Israel in a normal civil liberties sense. Homosexuals and others who want to be recognized as a legitimate grouping within society also may ‘wave the flag’ of serving in the military and the paying of taxes as reasons enough to approve them, if not to embrace their ‘faith’ or lifestyle. Nor are we trying to avoid or to prevent any future opposition or persecution against believers, which, according to my understanding of the end times, is going to increase before the great and terrible Day of YHVH. We are called to uphold a standard of righteousness which still exists within the current laws of the State of Israel, and to, hopefully, help BREAK THROUGH THE STONGHOLD OVER THE MINDS OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE AGAINST THE GOSPEL, and to allow SOME to consider what they are doing, and turn away from evil, and towards the truth, light, and righteousness, and that they be saved by the very One they now hate without a cause. God in His longsuffering and goodness is bringing repentance in the fear of His Name to many in Israel and to His people still dispersed among the nations.
We are called to have a prophetic voice, to be light and salt, to be witnesses of the truth of Messiah in Jesus. We are also called to strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – love – with all who call upon the name of Yeshua/Jesus from a pure heart. May the grace of God our Father continue to work in me to enlarge, soften, purify my heart to love Him more, to love the brethren more, to love my fellow man more, to love my enemies more.
Hear, O Israel, YHVH our God, YHVH is one! May we see the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory speedily in our day and generation! Amen.